Jeremy Lin Shares Thoughts on Mental Health

Jeremy Lin speaks about mental health issues faced by young people. (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

“You should find out the source of your stress and not let it become a part of you,” said basketball star Jeremy Lin on Sept. 16 at the Farkas Auditorium at New York University Langone Medical Center, after a screening of “Looking for Luke,” a short documentary film about the suicide of  Chinese-American Harvard University student Luke Tang.

The screening, hosted by the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Chinese-American Family Alliance for Mental Health, aimed to shed light on mental health issues among young people, destigmatize mental illness, and encourage young people with depression to seek help. According to statistics provided by the organizers, 75 percent of adolescents under the age of 26 in the U.S. have mental health issues. And early treatment is very important for them to recover. One-third of college students have depressive tendencies, one-twelfth have had suicidal thoughts, and about 1,100 college students take their own lives every year.

Luke Tang, the protagonist of the film, was a 19-year-old Harvard student who, in other people’s eyes, was passionate and exemplary. Tang’s teachers, friends and family members who spoke in the film said that when they heard he committed suicide they couldn’t believe it – a sign of inadequate awareness of mental illness. The film shows how Tang’s parents tried to fathom the tragedy after he died, and questions the way Chinese parents raise and communicate with their children and their understanding of mental health.

In a conversation with director Eric Lu about mental health issues among Asians, Lin shared his own experience of growing up under pressure. He said his parents set very high standards for him when he was a child. “They wanted me to be a straight-A student,” Lin said. Influenced by the Asian culture, Lin said he took his academic scores very seriously before he enrolled in college. “For a period of time in high school, I almost had nightmares every day,” said Lin. “I’d wake up after failing an exam in a dream and found myself drenched in sweat.”

Lin said he felt overwhelmed by the pressure then, and even lost his appetite and some sleep. But as he grew older, he realized that academic scores and other people’s views about him could not define his value. Gradually, he outgrew the treacherous period.

But Lin’s parents are not typical Asian parents. Lin said he felt lucky to be allowed to spend a lot of time playing basketball during his adolescence. Also, he tried to turn over the strict hierarchy of authority between parents and children as defined by Asian culture, and to make his parents his friends. Lin said his mother is a “tiger mom among tiger moms.” But when he learned more about how his parents grew up, he learned to understand the high expectations they placed on him.

Meanwhile, he tried to push the ball from his side and voluntarily shared his thoughts with his parents. “When I wanted to have a new hairstyle or pierce my ears, I’d tell them why I wanted to do so,” Lin said. He said support from the family, especially parents, can play a significant role in helping children overcome mental health challenges. And it needs effort from both sides to build up strong communication between parents and children. He also suggested that sufficient rest is indispensable in order to maintain one’s mental health, and one must take time to rest to keep inner balance.

The film shows that Tang was struggling with the question of “the meaning of life.” Lin said he too has asked himself the same question. “I thought the purpose of my life was to become a great basketball player. But people tend to judge you by individual games. If you play well in a game, they salute you. If you don’t perform well, they ditch you. People’s value shouldn’t be defined this way,” said Lin. “Now I stick to my faith, and make giving others help and love the purpose of my life.”

Lin said many people may be bothered by the philosophical question of the meaning of life. And when it feels unbearable, one should seek help. “You shouldn’t take on the journey alone, and shouldn’t face this question alone because we all live in a community.”

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